by George Monbiot
September 8, 2010
AlterNet

I used to think being a vegan was the only ethical way to eat. But an important new book suggests we can change our food system to allow for healthy meat consumption.

Carracci - The Butchers Shop - 1583


This will not be an easy column to write. I am about to put down 1,200 words in support of a book that starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport. But it has persuaded me that I was wrong. More to the point, it has opened my eyes to some fascinating complexities in what seemed to be a black and white case.

In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I'm about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie pays handsome tribute to vegans for opening up the debate. He then subjects their case to the first treatment I've read that is both objective and forensic. His book is an abattoir for misleading claims and dodgy figures, on both sides of the argument.

There's no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry (in which animals are kept in pens) in the US as "one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history". It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork.

Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat. Until the early 1990s, only 33% of compound pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption: the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste. Since then the proportion of sound grain in pig feed has doubled. There are several reasons: the rules set by supermarkets; the domination of the feed industry by large corporations, which can't handle waste from many different sources; but most important the panicked over-reaction to the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises.

Feeding meat and bone meal to cows was insane. Feeding it to pigs, whose natural diet incorporates a fair bit of meat, makes sense, as long as it is rendered properly. The same goes for swill. Giving sterilized scraps to pigs solves two problems at once: waste disposal and the diversion of grain. Instead we now dump or incinerate millions of tons of possible pig food and replace it with soya whose production trashes the Amazon. Waste food in the UK, Fairlie calculates, could make 800,000 tonnes of pork, or one sixth of our total meat consumption.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we've been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

Continue Reading Page 2 HERE:


Check Out This Book Review:

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, by Lierre Keith
* Posted by Dallas Gaytheist on September 8, 2010 in the Read Atheist group.



http://www.alternet.org/story/148098/ok%2C_i_take_it_back_--_we_don...


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Replies to This Discussion

There are so many points that this artical does not address. First of all a grass feed cows takes years to fatten to full size verses less than a year on grains. Two meat is still unhealthy and unnecessary in the human diet. Even at a two to one ratio it is still a poor use of our land for producing food with an ever growing human population. Three large numbers of animals raised for meat produces tons of green house gases, use an exorbinant amount of fresh water and far more petrolium products to process and refrigerate and ship than its plant based counter parts. Adovcates for eating meat are just like advocates for religion. They twist the facts to justify there own delusional desires. Producing meat to feed 7 billion plus people is not substainable and will only add to human suffering in both starvation and health issues.
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Exactly. I think that if you are talking hard numbers, my carbon footprint as a meat eater but a person choosing not to reproduce is probably half that of a child-bearing vegan, if they were a perfect, bicycle riding, living out in the woods and growing their own local food organic vegan.
Of course, if you tell someone else that it's unethical to have kids, it's none of your business.
But deciding what to put in your body is obviously something that everyone else is allowed to weigh in on.
Of course, at the bottom (or should that be top?) of all we have to do to save the environment is lowering the population. Since both China and India have young populations they will continue to grow and hence we should limit our numbers while funding family planning world wide. However, on a personal level being a vegetarian or vegan is a step in the right direction of limiting our own carbon footprint (not to mention it being healthier).
Well, the planet may survive, but when the Karma Squad arrives, ass will be (vegan) grass. So, I heartily disagree, and mostly, VEGAN IS MORE THAN A DIET --- IT IS A LIFESTYLE THAT DOES NOT CONDONE KILLING AND EATING OTHER BEINGS. E V E R !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
"VEGAN IS MORE THAN A DIET --- IT IS A LIFESTYLE THAT DOES NOT CONDONE KILLING AND EATING OTHER BEINGS. E V E R !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Thank you. It's so nice to be in a forum where you can say this or agree with it and not have a bunch of religious jealous of our moral convictions calling us hypocrites.
That's why I prefer the term "Free Thinker" to describe Atheism.
Every time you eat, you kill SOMETHING.
Guess what happens to a potato plant when you make fries? That's right. It dies. You killed it for consumption.
Or maybe you mean that a potato isn't a being. Or bacteria aren't beings...I mean, they are alive, but not the same way you are alive, or a dog is alive.
So then it's an intelligence issue for you? You aren't allowed to eat "smart" lifeforms, but everything else is fair game?

On this note, I heard about someone who said they refused to eat anything with DNA in it... Obviously they didn't realise that plants had DNA and were promptly ridiculed for their lack of knowledge in the area... Essentially they would only eat salts, SOME oils, and water(purified so no bacteria are in it of course).

Syd-
Thanks for the book review, and as always, thank you for bringing this issue into conversation. I agree, it's too important NOT to be discussed and considered.
Perhaps I should have said sentient being lest someone launch the worn-out moronic rant of a threatened necrovore about potatoes having feelings. When potatoes start to run from a source of pain, I will eat only my words.

Given the existence of groups like ZPG and NPG, it seems it's just as OK to educate people on their reproductive impact as there food.
~yawn~
Pain isn't a necessity of death, though.
There are perfectly painless ways to kill animals for meat sources.
So yeah. Again, this is a worn-out moronic rant of a holier-than-thou attitude, when you simply don't have the hard numbers to back it up.
I mean here you are...a self identified atheist agreeing with the woo of karma?
"Well, the planet may survive, but when the Karma Squad arrives, ass will be (vegan) grass."
Seriously, mate. The concept of 'karma' is a tool of a pretty damn discriminatory religion.
So if you don't have the karma-woo to back you up, then what do you have?
1)It's better for the environment.
-Well, there are tons of things that we do that are shitty for the environment. Like running water, or electricity, or internet, or cancer treatment. But I don't see you giving any of those things up. I don't see you looking down on others when they decide not to. I mean, it's apparent that if you really love this planet and want to preserve it for future generations, the single best step you can take.. the one step that FAR surpasses refusing meat consumption.....is simply not reproducing. So excuse me if I look down from my high horse and tell you to suck it. I've done more to fight this environmental battle than ten vegans combined. Don't you DARE tell me I'm killing the planet. The numbers just don't add up. I eat meat about twice to three times a week from open range, local farms. Grass fed, grain and antibiotic/hormone/torture free. Go ahead. Crunch the numbers. Tell me how I'm impacting the world. Hell, analyze my entire lifestyle. My 56 miles to the gallon car (that I risk my life daily in, because it doesn't even have air bags and I drive on some of the most dangerous freeways in California. Six lanes in either direction. Oh. I also don't have an air conditioner in my car, because that just uses more fossil fuels.) I promise you that despite your tools of religious guilt (Yeah, I'm still laughing about the Karma thing) I still leave less of a carbon footprint than you do. Even with all the world travel I do...all the plane rides, all my delicious meat, I still bet that my life will leave less of a negative impact on this planet than ANYONE who reproduces or drives an SUV. But for some reason we have to be delicate telling people not to spit out babies? Yet meat eaters are fair game to have their lives criticized and looked down upon? Don't be a hypocrite, man.
2)But eating meat is cruel, even if it isn't having a huge negative impact on the planet.
-Again, I call bullshit. Humans are the only creatures on the planet that seem to have this morbid preoccupation with death. The rest of the animal kingdom doesn't worry over it too much. Sure, they avoid it whenever possible, and most animals don't kill more than they can eat. (I say MOST here.) What the predators don't eat, the scavengers do. I fully agree that an animal that lives its life in a tiny, windowless cage is suffering. Supporting farming of that type is not moral in any sense of the word. But hunting, spearfishing, and otherwise allowing an animal to naturally reach adulthood and full size in a comfortable environment before being killed humanely is simply not the biggest evil on the planet. EVERYTHING we eat leaves a huge carbon footprint because our farming methods are fucking stupid. I am willing to bet that the chicken that's defrosting on my counter is more morally justified than an organic tropical smoothie from Whole Foods. Hey, those pineapples and bananas don't grown next door, you know. They have to be flown and then trucked across the country, in from another country that probably exports them under the use of slave labor. My chicken was raised in someone's back yard. It ate bugs or whatever the fuck chickens eat, that live in the dirt. It came from 5.8 miles away, and it will feed me for THREE meals.
So yeah. I don't see karma biting me in the ass any time soon.
So what other justification do you have for trying to tell me what to eat? It isn't any worse for the environment. If reared properly, or hunted properly, it isn't any crueler than what goes on in the natural environment ever day...So what do you have left?
Oh. It's bad for me.
Yeah. So are all the drugs and alcohol I do, but since when is it your business to dictate what happens with my body?

Get off of your high horse. Come down and have a REAL conversation on the topic. Drop your religiously brainwashed knee jerk reaction of judgmental superiority. (Yeah, I still can't believe you said 'Karma.') and talk about the REAL issues.
Anything else is just distracting from the problem, and that doesn't help anything.
In fact, it makes it worse.

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